City staff reviews leash-free zones after public, HCA express concerns
Craig Campbell, Dundas Star News Staff
Published on Feb 04, 2010

Hamilton is already behind other Ontario municipalities in providing safe leash-free dog-running areas and appears to have ignored its own policy by permitting a free-running area to continue in Warren Park.

City staff is currently reviewing the leashfree zone after concerns from the community and Hamilton Conservation Authority.

In its 2003 leash free parks policy, Hamilton differentiates between fenced dog parks and unfenced free-running areas. The city now operates four unfenced running areas and does not have any fenced dog parks. The SPCA offers a fenced dog park on Dartnall Road.

The Dundas Star News reviewed the leash-free park policies of 10 other Ontario municipalities and found the majority require a fence around any area where dogs are permitted to run at large. The rest require fencing when a free-running area is located close to an environmentally significant area, or don’t allow dogs in those areas at all, either on-leash or at-large.

Former Town of Dundas recreation director Rick Lane now works for the City of St. Catharines.

He said the municipality has two fully enclosed leash-free parks, including one that is 2.5 acres, and is considering creating another one. The third will also be fenced.

“It makes for safer conditions for pets and pet owners,” Lane said.

Last summer, when the Hamilton Conservation Authority raised concerns about dogs running at large on its properties adjacent to the leash-free area at Warren Park, City of Hamilton animal control manager told the Dundas Star News every dog owner says their pet would never bite a person or another dog.

“My personal opinion is we tend to attribute human behaviour or motives to their actions, forgetting they don’t think the way we think,” Buckle said. “(Dogs) don’t have human motives. They’re also not 100 per cent predictable.

“People are dumbfounded when their dog bites somebody. No one ever expects their dog to do that.”

The former Town of Dundas permitted six leash-free areas in neighbourhood parks in 1987.

Apparently, no rules or selection criteria were established. After amalgamation, it was a surprise to many people the designations actually existed. Since then, use of the leashfree areas has increased.

In 2004, after approving a leash-free policy, the city repealed the free running designations for Valley City Community Centre, Sanctuary Park and Olympic Park. Leash-free zones officially continued in Warren Park, Little John Park and Chegwin Park.

The city subsequently designated a fourth free-running area in Ancaster at Cinema Park on Golf Links Road.

City staff recommended repealing the leash-free status for three Dundas parks, but the May 2004 public works staff report did not explain how those areas contravened city policy. It recommended continuing the leash-free designation in Warren Park, but did not mention the designation contravened two requirements of the policy –that leash-free parks are not to be located in Environmentally Significant Areas, and that they not be located next to trails. Warren Park is part of an ESA and features trails that directly link to HCA trails where at large dogs are prohibited.

Hamilton’s leash-free policy does not address the idea of fencing leash free zones.

The City of Ottawa has an extensive policy for designating parks for dogs. Every one of the amalgamated city’s parks has been individually assessed and designated as off-leash, on-leash only or no dogs at all. Dogs are not permitted in parks adjacent to conservation areas.

In Toronto, the city policy requires a leash-free zone be completely fenced if it is within 10 metres of a naturalized area or ravine.

The City of London requires leash-free zones be fenced, and does not consider Environmentally Significant Areas suitable for free running dogs.

London requires the fenced zones be set back at least 15 metres from ESA’s and watercourses.

Mississauga, Kitchener, Cambridge, Waterloo, Oakville and Oshawa are other examples of municipalities that fence all their leash free zones, unlike Hamilton.